What Happens When A Dream Turns Into A Triggering Nightmare


Suddenly, I was back there.  That place, both a saving grace and a hell.  I was walking down the hall.  Bare concrete block walls.  Gray, solemn, just like the people that dwelled inside.  Doorways on both sides leading to rooms with aging office waiting room furniture that was once comfortable but now forlorn like their occupants.  I was one of them again.  An empty void, emaciated, internally crying for help.  Tempered glass and a counter to my left held those that treated us.  Their faces ranged from a gentle smile to a stare as if asking, “What is this person doing?  Am I safe?”  Slowly, I walked toward the end of the hallway where a window was.  Large, a glimpse to the outside world.  If only it was not right across the street from a cemetery.  

My eyes were welling up with tears.

Why was I back here?  There was no reason to be.  I have been doing well mentally and emotionally.  If this was the case, why was I, without warning, plunged into the short term psychiatric ward once again?  I was dreaming and being triggered.  Being both on the outside looking in and on the inside dying to get out.  

I have a love-hate relationship with the hospital’s psych ward.  When I was first there over ten years ago, I wondered why I was there.  I never thought I was experiencing the same problems as the other residents at the time.  I thought I was normal.  Ha, ha, good one Steph!  When I went back over two years ago, I begged for it.  I know being there would help me.


There are things I would rather forget about the hospital aside from the bare walls and gloomy atmosphere:  


The bed checks every 15 minutes… even if I was deep asleep, like clockwork I was awakened to a flashlight shining into the small glass panel in the door.  


The psychiatrists… although there to help, none of them appeared like they cared to help you. I spent all of five minutes a week day (they did not work on weekends or holidays) talking with them while their eyes looked elsewhere as if saying “You’re wasting my time.”


The wake-up time and routine… it was a bit rough waking up at 7am with all the medications I was given and then to go through the process of waiting in line to get weighed and our blood pressure taken.  


Lack of outdoor time… depending on your mental and physical state that day, you may be allowed to go for a short walk circumnavigating the hospital building viewing the nearby cemetery and emergency room.


But, where there is bad, there is also good.  As I mentioned, I knew I needed to be hospitalized again.  For some reason, I felt safe there.  I was only responsible for myself.  I could focus on my much-needed self-care and work on getting better even if it took a psychotic break to get me there.  I knew I would get the medications necessary to sedate me, stop my brain from its incessant thinking… you’re worthless, helpless, not worthy of love.  These medications would also stop my hysterical, borderline delusional, thoughts… take that screw, just jam it in your head, who cares if it kills you?!


Although the psychiatrists were lacking in care, there were some nurses that were a pleasant gift.  They would talk with you about your life focusing in on your face, treating you like a human being.  They remembered things you told them and asked you about it days later.  They were concerned about your care.  Sometimes they even sat and watched TV with us.


Aside from two very special nurses (1 each hospitalization), I made connections with fellow residents.  We talked about our experiences, gave each other advice, was there as a person who knew what it felt like.  I still, from time to time, communicate with my last roommate.


And yet, this dream triggered me.  I awoke with rapid breaths, scared, worried, panicked.  What did it all mean and why was it affecting me so badly?  I was somber the whole day.  Was this a prelude of another hospitalization to come?  Because of my Anxiety diagnosis, of course, here I am jumping to the worst conclusion instead of calmly thinking this through.  And if it is a premonition, why am I so fearful?  The hospital helped me.  Ultimately, I think I will have to consult my therapist on this.

When False Information On A Meme Makes You Angry…

Originally posted on Stigmama on Tuesday, June 20th:

The other day on Facebook I came across a meme… actually calling it a meme is too nice. I came across a shitty ad that basically told me and others that are Mentally Ill and medicated that we are now drug addicts. While addiction is a Mental Illness, I have not been diagnosed with it. I am a long time Depressive and Anxiety-ridden Mom that will fully disclose any part of my history because people need to know what it is really like to be Mentally Ill.

When I saw this, I was outraged, furious, and this was at 10am on a weekday morning in my cubicle at work:

What made this worse, was this was the pinned post in this group ‘The Free Thought Project’. My blood was boiling. I wanted to break something. Instead I decided to use this as an oppurtunity to educate.

I have seen many versions of this ad before (see below) consciously telling people that medication is evil and while I find them offensive, it didn’t hit me as hard as saying I now have a “lifelong addiction”:

                                        

Is medication shit… well I will flat out admit I wish I didn’t have to take it but comparing it to the stuff that would be on my daughter’s diaper years and years ago is a bit much.

Nature as an antidepressant… I agree wholeheartedly that nature is very rewarding.  I am an avid walker and hiker (and snowshoe-er in the cold winter months).  I love being outside.  After a hike, I usually find myself rejuvenated, feeling alive and most importantly happy.  A hike or a walk outside at lunch can ‘turn my frown upside down’.  There are just a couple of things wrong with this statement:  Nature does not have the same effect on everyone and when you are severely Depressed, it ain’t going to work, trust me, I’ve been there.

Being an Alpha personality, a control freak, a perfectionist, I will fully admit that I hated being on meds.  I couldn’t fathom the idea that a little pill (or four) controlled me.  I was only ‘normal’ because of them.  I thought I could get better without them.  I was wrong… very very wrong.

The first time I was prescribed medication was shortly after my 18th birthday.  It came in the form of a half white and half aqua capsule known as Prozac.  I was quickly told not to tell anyone I was taking it.  This was after I held a case cutter I stole from work to my wrist debating whether I should live or die.  This event, I was also told, to not speak of.  Ah, you got to love the stigma associated with being Mentally Ill.  Because of this, I thought medication was wrong, bad, sinful.  How stupid of me.

It wasn’t until my recent episode of Major Depressive Disorder and Severe Anxiety almost three years ago, that while getting better I finally said “Screw it!”  I didn’t care who knew.  If I had a megaphone, I would probably be screaming it.  There is nothing wrong with being medicated.  I really should create (or order if it exists) a shirt that reads: “Medicated & Proud Of It”.

These people that create these offensive and naïve memes have no idea what it is really like to live with these conditions.  Because it is invisible it doesn’t actually exist.  Because there is no official blood test or genetic test, we all must be making it up.  It is all in our heads… why yes, it is.  Because of a lack of Serotonin, something produced in my brain (i.e. my head) I live daily with two severe illnesses.  I am not making it up.  Who would make up paying monthly for medications, weekly psychiatrist & therapy appointments, being hospitalized, becoming severely delusional, considering hurting or killing yourself?!  Yes, I totally want all of this!

But we live in a society that believes Mental Illness is not on the same level as a Physical Illness.  It is okay if you take lifelong medications for illnesses such as Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, and Cancer and that is not seen as an addiction.  Why is it okay for them but not for people like me?  Why am I considered ‘an addict’?  Why am I ‘faking it’?  I wonder if there was a real test that proved a Mental Illness diagnosis if these views would change.

I have weaned off medications a handful of times.  It can happen.  I lived 4 years med free before I entered into my 6th Major Depressive Episode.  Once on medication again, I took a hard look at my husband, my daughter, and my parents and told myself I didn’t want to see them suffer anymore.  I didn’t want to suffer anymore.  I decided then and there to never ever go off my antidepressant.  Lexapro and I will remain the best of friends.  I am not ashamed of my med.  Without it, I would be in a very dark place or not here at all.

To ‘The Free Thought Project’, research more on what is truth and what is fiction.  I don’t care if you lean liberal or conservative.  The Mentally Ill are a large population and by posting this, you are making us want to hide more.  Because of this, many people will stay silent.  Because of this, many people will not get the help they need.  Because of this thinking, more deaths by suicide will occur.  Remember that old adage “Stop and think before you speak”?  It would have come in handy here.

To all my fellow people with Mental Illness, please do not hide.  Do not believe a word of this absurdity.  There is help.  A walk in the woods can help, but it is not a cure.  It will not help as much as therapy and medication.  Remember:

 

Struggling To Help My Daughter…


My daughter is a bright, caring, empathetic, preteen girl.  Most days she has a smile on her face that melts her mom’s heart.  She is typical preteen, mostly caring about binge-watching shows on Netflix or catching up on her friend’s latest YouTube videos featuring her fave, Beanie Boos.  She does well in school, is friendly to everyone, and is respectful of others.
She also has Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
When she was diagnosed at age 6, I did everything I could to help her.  I got her into a special group at her school, inquired information from her doctor and read up on anything I could get my hands on.  I have plenty of experience with adult GAD, but I haven’t a clue on what to do for childhood Anxiety.  The school group helped immensely and then she aged out of the program.  She was doing well until a major life event occurred in our household.  We were fostering-to-adopt but had to give this child back to DCF because of my declining mental health.  Her GAD came back full force.  This time we sought out therapy.  While she got help, so did I for my Depression and Anxiety.
In the last 2 ½ years, my daughter has been doing great with only minor hiccups.
Then we decided to move to give her a better education as she starts Middle School, another major life change.
My husband and I do not hide things from her and she knew from the beginning about the move.  She helped us in choosing where we would live (ultimately her input was minor).  We wanted her to embrace this change.  She was excited as she will be in school with her best friend now.  We thought she was handling this well.
And then sleep disturbances set in.  
My daughter has always been a good sleeper; I have never experience this before even with her past episodes of GAD.  As the moving date approaches, her sleep disturbances have become full fledge episodes of Insomnia and I, as her mother, feel completely helpless.  Here I am, a woman who has struggled with Depression and Anxiety for most of my life and I can’t help her.  For me, the solution comes in the form of medication that I take nightly.  For her, at age 10, there is no medicinal help.  At first we tried simple solutions by telling her to read, it will tire her eyes.  That didn’t work.  
As night 3 was approaching, I became extremely concerned.  I could vividly remember what I felt like and how I reacted to night 4 of Insomnia for me.  I remember the tears and the strong desire to sleep.  I remember the immense amount of thoughts that bounced in and out of my mind.  I remember the extreme irritation and delusional thinking I had during the day.  I was desperate to give my child relief.  
I suggested she use my weighted blanket.  She refused.
I suggested mindfulness meditation.  She refused. 
I suggested my Therapist’s 4-square breathing technique (breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, repeat 4 times) which has worked for me a few times.  She was hesitant but decided to give it a shot.  It didn’t work.
Night 4 brought on the only pseudo-medicinal thing I could try with her… Melatonin.  I cut my 3mg pill in half.  Nope, still didn’t work.  She was in tears.  She just wanted to sleep and I completely understood this all too well.  I explained that she needed to distract herself, try not to just lay in bed.  I suggested reading, writing, journaling, drawing, coloring and lastly, watching stuff on her Kindle (which I set to the night mode that turns off the harming blue light).  She slept only 7 hours that night, barely enough for an adult.
Last night, night 5, I finally convinced her to use my weighted blanket.  I thought we may have found the solution as all was quiet.  Then I heard her come downstairs at 11pm.  After about 15 minutes, she returned to her room.  This morning she said that she sat crying in her room and eventually fell asleep around midnight.  She woke up at 6:10am.  6 hours of sleep.
I don’t know what to do.  She is declining rapidly.  The recommended amount of sleep for a child her age is 9-12 hours.  She has not had anywhere close to this in five days.  My sleep is becoming disturbed worrying about her.  I do not know how to help her anymore.  I am struggling as I feel the sense of blame coming back… she is like this because of me.  My GAD worries that she will never sleep again, always jumping to the worst conclusion.  I cry for her.  I blame myself for her struggles with this illness.  I am pondering therapy again, but that isn’t going to fix her problem quickly.  How can I help my daughter?  

I’ve Always Wanted To Be An Architect… And Other Shit 

I remember my first Lego set.  I was six and my family had just gotten back to my Aunt & Uncle’s house from the mall.  I am not sure why I wanted this set so badly, but I begged, I pleaded, and now it was lying on the floor of the bedroom I was sitting in.  It was a medieval boat that came with two men in helmets.  I stared at it in awe.  Could I build this?  At six?

I worked hard on it but sure enough, I completed it.  I stared at it in amazement thinking, Wow, I built this!

This teeny-tiny itty-bitty Lego set started it all.  I wanted to become an Architect.  I made a major life decision at the respectable age of 6.

Through the years, I challenged myself.  The sets got bigger and my time to build them got shorter.  I would follow the directions, quickly erect the Lego building, look at it with pure elation and then take it apart.  At this point, I would be my own creations.  I was, after all, a budding Architect!

As I became a teen, I shifted from Legos to hand drawings.  I would draw floor plans just for fun.  Soon, I developed into drawing the front elevations of houses.  I received several home plan books and computer programs for my birthday and holidays.  I even received a drafting table.  Yes, this is definitely what I wanted to do.

In the fall of 1998, I started the 4 year Bachelor of Science in Architecture degree at the University of Maryland.  I was on my way.  For the next few years, I lived in the Architecture building, taking a particular interest in my Architectural History courses.  I became fascinated with buildings, mainly homes, from the Colonial and Federal time periods.  I graduated in May of 2002 and after a month started my career in Architecture.

But, I was far from my desire to be a licensed Architect.  I kept my work records and when the time came, I began to study for the exams.  7 exams at over $200 each.  I took my first exam when my daughter was 2.  I anxiously waited for my results.  The day finally came…

…FAIL.

I was heartbroken.  I was also in the midst of my 5th episode with Major Depressive Disorder.  I decided to take a break and wait for my daughter to get a bit older.  After all, the 5 year rolling clock didn’t start until you passed one of the exams.

1 year after I failed the first exam, I took a different one.  I felt confident going in.  I felt happy when I left.  I felt defeated when the results came…

…FAIL.

The word ‘fail’ and the fact that I am an Alpha with perfectionist tendencies, didn’t ease this situation.  I decided then and there, I was done taking exams until I had the money to pay for the review courses and the exams.

Years went by.  My job growth continued, although minimally.  I began to really think about my career.  Would being licensed make a difference?  At that point, no.  My pay would not increase.  My responsibilities would not increase.  Why spend the money?  Just so I could put ‘Architect’ after my name?

A few years ago, I was struggling with my career.  Where I was working was affecting my Mental Health greatly.  It was not a healthy place for me anymore.  So I once again thought about the question:

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Suddenly, the answer was no longer Architect.  I had become increasingly interested in hiking and nature.  Being outside rejuvenates my soul.  Researching, I realized that maybe a career in Forestry, like becoming a Park Ranger would be for me.  Lacking funds to go get a degree in it, I decided to start small and take a Certificate Course in Forest & Wildlife Conservation.  Most of the material intrigued me.  And then reality set in… there were very little, if any, paying positions in the Northeast, and we were not moving.

Next up in line, a Groupon became available to become a Certified Personal Trainer.  I studied and miraculously passed the exam (an exam that most of its material was not covered in the books the course came with).  To this day, I am still certified.  To this day, I have not used it.

Why?  I changed jobs.  I found a job that still uses my knowledge in Architecture that I enjoy.  Is it my passion?…

…No.

I feel like we stress deciding a career so early in life.  Of course, I made the decision even earlier than necessary.  I graduated college when I was 22, but one had to declare a major by the end of sophomore year.  I look at my daughter now, and can’t even believe that in less than 10 years, she will have to decide what she wants to do with the rest of her life.  How can we decide so young with so little knowledge and experience on what life really is?  She is already starting to decide.  So far she has narrowed it down to Fashion Designer, Illustrator, and Teacher  (Fashionista dropped off the list a couple of years ago).  These are her current passions, but when she is my age (a few years shy of the big 4-0) will she still feel that way?  I don’t.

If I could turn back time (someone send me a Time Turner from the Harry Potter world), I would change my major, knowing what I would endure in the years to come.  Becoming an Architect would fade away.  After suffering severely with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety and with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, advocacy is my new passion.  I only want to help others to not suffer the way I have and to get better.  I want others to know they are not alone.  I want to be one of the many people to break down the stigma wall, block by block.  If money were not an issue, I would go back to school now.  I would get a degree in Mental Health Counseling.  I would become a Mental Health Counselor.  Since money does not grow on trees, I will do what I can, maybe one day going back to school.

For now, I am an Architectural Project Manager who advocates for Mental Health and Maternal Mental Health through my writing. And, I am content this way.

When July 4th Isn’t a Holiday Anymore…

Fireworks enchant me.  The brilliant colors of light that blast in the night sky, not knowing exactly which direction they will burst, what beautiful hues will show, and exactly how loud they will be.  I was always mesmerized by them.  A beautiful man made project dancing with physics come together cohesively to create these sky artwork masterpieces.

Then I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  Somehow these once beautiful displays now cripple me.  Sitting at a friend’s annual fireworks party, I felt myself tense up with each pop.  My breaths were becoming short and shallow and I honestly became frozen, unable to speak.  On the outside, I looked like any other spectator, inside I was crying.  I couldn’t believe how my body was reacting to this.  I became panicked and quickly covered any sign of it up.  I only told my husband later that evening when we got home.

And this was a planned fireworks display.  That was only July 2nd.

The next day, panic started the moment I heard the first loud bang around 8pm.  Every noise startled my body.  I was worried I wouldn’t sleep, that my “courteous” neighbors would go the whole night firing off these things.  I repeatedly told myself, “Stephanie, don’t worry, tomorrow is a holiday, you can sleep then if you want.”  A motto that repeated in my brain like a broken record.  Before midnight that night, a sonic boom was created by one said firework, it shook my whole house causing me to jump, exclaim “What the F*ck?!”, and ultimately have an anxiety attack.  Shit, this was only July 3rd.

Sleep did not come easy that night.

I woke up irritable.  It wasn’t shocking.  It took me awhile to fall asleep due to the neighbors’ earthquake producing fireworks and the fact my room was so hot.  Then I woke up several times that night.  I incessantly apologized for my mean behavior as I was being very snarky and sarcastic.  We spent the whole day introducing our daughter to Star Wars Episode VI and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone via cinema.  The holiday seemed relaxing enough.  I was just anticipating the start of the fireworks.  As my husband and I were downstairs watching Murder In The First off the DVR…

“Boom! Pop! Whizz!”

With every sound, my digits tensed.  I dug into the arm of my loveseat with my whole body.  Soon enough I was tensely wound in a huge knot, locked in the fetal position.

“Boom!”

I let out a yelp and shook.  My breathing rapid.  With each burst of a firework, a tear fell from my eyes, my breaths grew more intense and I became rigid and scared.  I am not sure when exactly my Anxiety took complete control of my body last night but over an hour later, my 9 year old daughter came down the stairs to the basement to join us.  She couldn’t fall asleep because the fireworks were loud.

“Can I stay down here?” she asked.

At this point, barely able to recognize her voice, I was like a corpse in rigor on the floor still in the fetal position making a repeated sound every time I gasped for air.  She stayed with us, hugging me, telling me it would be alright.  I kept letting out whispers of “Help me” for them to try to pry me apart as my body was riddled with pain at being locked in this position for over an hour.  My husband tried to pull my legs, my daughter my arm.  Nothing worked.  I couldn’t speak so I could not request my husband get me an Ativan.  My daughter suggested my husband give me some alcohol (yes, not the greatest parenting) which he was about to do but I was unable to drink I was so nauseated.  Anything to get me to relax enough to breathe.

Almost 2 hours in, I felt my breathing slow.  My chest no longer weighted down.  I was able to speak and asked for help once again to uncurl my exhausted body.  My husband uncoiled one arm and shook it out.  Then he did the other.  I took a deep breath.  My daughter moved the ottoman as I was on the floor and my husband pulled at one leg and then the other.  Now instead of sitting pretzel-like, my legs were straight out in front of me but fused.  Reaching out his arms, I grasped my husband’s hands with mine and was lifted straight up.  I could not walk yet, but rather shuffled to the steps as my legs were still stiff and somehow made my way up the stairs where I dropped on my bed and took my Ativan.

I was never in the military.  The mild form of PTSD I suffered from was never triggered by fireworks.  Like those former troops who fear the loud pops every 4th of July, I do too.  My Generalized Anxiety Disorder is no joke.  I don’t want to be incapable of moving and speaking because I am so panicked especially in front of my child.  I could not stop my body.  I could not stop my brain.  July 4th is no longer a holiday for me.  Yes, I still get to enjoy the day off of work with my family and friends, but the fear that is built up over the day concerning what fireworks will go off, when they will go off and how long they will last takes over my whole body.  My “holiday” turns into a nightmare at the bare minimum.

It is now Tuesday, July 5th, and I started my day off with anxiety attacks.  I sat through a meeting masking my short breaths, desiring to go home and hide.  I worry about tonight and the fireworks.  I worry about the next July 4th and am already researching countries to go to to avoid reliving what happened last night. I am still living in fear.  All I can hope for is that tonight is not a repeat of last night.